Sunday, September 23, 2007


Carrie Akre,
...Last the Evening,
Loveless [10/30/07]

Nothing can keep Carrie Akre down. Back in the 1990s when the major labels were scooping up every act that
had anything to do with the Northwest, her bands Hammerbox and Goodness got swept
into the maelstrom. As with most other non-grunge acts—see
the Posies and Harvey Danger—those relationships weren't
built to last, but Akre soldiered on as a solo performer.

Now Seattle claims a number of self-assured female performers, like Sera Cahoone and Laura Veirs, but Akre got there first. I don't mean to suggest that she predates Heart, but Ann and Nancy Wilson were rockers before they turned the volume down for the Lovemongers (they also originated in Vancouver, not Seattle).

As ever, Akre resists trends. It's always been one of her biggest strengths—and weaknesses. She's a belter. Unless a woman is working in the idioms of blues or metal, there isn't much of a call for belters nowadays. The rock reign of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick ended decades ago.

...Last the Evening was produced by Steve Fisk and features Mark Pickerel on drums and Johnny Sangster on guitar, but there's no alt-country here. Throughout, Fisk keeps the focus on Akre's powerful pipes and generic lyrics like, "I believe that dreams will come true if we have faith." Akre's third solo outing, after Home (2000) and Invitation (2002), doesn't sound much different from the kind of thing So-Cal twentysomethings, like Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillat, are doing. It isn't bad, but her mid-tempo pop-rock is too straightahead for my taste. Still, I admire her perseverence, and hope this record reaches more sympathetic ears.

The Bird and the Bee, Please Clap
Your Hands, Metro Blue/EMI [9/25/07]

I fell in love with the Bird and the Bee upon release of their debut. This EP represents the duo's dance-oriented side, but it's still dreamy pop. (By "dance," I mean go-go boot shimmying rather than robotic raving.) Whether it'll make new fans, I couldn't say, but I can't imagine that those already familiar will be disappointed. And I find it amusing that they titled the first track "Polite Dance Song." It almost plays like a response to The Bird
and the Bee's "Fucking Boyfriend," a rather impolite dance song.

The four originals are joined by an extraneous cover of "How
Deep Is Your Love" with backing vocals by Sia ("Breathe Me"). Personally, I wish they had selected something from earlier in the Bee Gees' career, like enchantingly fey 1960s tracks "Holiday" or "New York Mining Disaster 1941." That could've resulted in something more surprising and satisfying, since the Bird and the Bee don't have much new to bring to this disco-era ballad.

The Capstan Shafts, Environ
Maiden, Rainbow Quartz [10/16/07]

In contrast to the prog-rockers of old and their side-length
suites, Environ Maiden consists of 29 lo-fi miniatures with
a slight British accent. I can't be the first to compare the Cap-
stan Shafts to Guided by Voices. (As it turns out, I'm not.) Further, Vermont's Dean Wells, a professional woodworker,
claims to have been inspired by GBV's early gem Vampire on Titus.

Like GBV's Robert Pollard, Wells is a prolific fellow: 17 releases on a variety of labels since 1999. Other writers have compared him to early David Bowie, Destroyer, and the entire Elephant 6 collective (Olivia Tremor Control, Apples on Stereo, etc.). It's true, all true.

One of the best damn songs ever!

I also hear a smidgen of Wreckless Eric (see "Whole Wide World" above). Like Eric, his voice breaks at times, but it's never irritating, always appealing—and I'm not suggesting he does it on purpose (there's nothing calculated about this recording). As you can probably tell: I like Environ Maiden a lot, but it feels as if I've heard it before. No worries. It's a pleasant form of déjà vu.

Click here to stream the album.

Endnote: Masculin-Féminin image from French New Wave (Jean-Luc Godard, 1966; Jean-Pierre Léaud with pop singer Chantal Goya), Carrie Akre image from her official website, video from YouTube. For more information about the Bird
and the Bee, please click here. For the Capstan Shafts, here.

9/29 Update: Coincidentally enough, I received Nina Simone's Anthology for my birthday. On this two-disc set, Simone covers
"To Love Somebody." No, she doesn't turn into into a dusky blues
or an anguished operetta. On the contrary, she keeps things light—bouyant even. I pronounce it the best Brothers Gibb cover ever.

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